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CFL Previews - Week 9 - August 22-24
From The Sports Network

By Gregg Xenakes, CFL Editor

Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) -

MONTREAL ALOUETTES (1-6) AT WINNIPEG BLUE BOMBERS (5-3)

DATE & TIME: Friday, August 22, 8:30 p.m. (ET).

GAME NOTES: The motto for Montreal these days is "Strength in Numbers," the only problem is the Alouettes are losing parts and losing games as a result.

This week the Als see how well they can hold up as they hit the road to face off against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers at Investors Group Field.

Montreal knew 2014 would be a trying season, what with the retirement of quarterback Anthony Calvillo, but few thought the team would hit the skids so violently.

The Als were hoping to get some positive returns from Troy Smith, a former Heisman Trophy winner while at Ohio State, but he has not panned out. In fact, he is now on the six-game injured list, which means Alex Brink is now the quarterback of record.

Last week, the Als suffered their fifth straight loss and the sixth setback in seven tries on the season, bowing at Saskatchewan in a 16-11 final.

Brink was serviceable as he converted 19-of-31 passes for 187 yards, was intercepted once and sacked three times. The signal caller also ran for a team-best 32 yards on three carries, which might not be the best idea these days given the state of quarterback play in Montreal.

The lone highlight for the Alouettes came in the fourth quarter when Duron Carter secured a missed field goal and returned it 123 yards to the end zone, accounting for the only major of the game for Montreal and drawing the team into a tie with the Roughriders for the time being.

The active roster for the Alouettes now includes quarterbacks Tanner Marsh and Jonathan Crompton, along with Brink. Not surprisingly, the Montreal passing attack ranks dead last in the CFL still, showing an awful efficiency rating of 59.0, stemming from a mere 47.9 percent completion rate and four touchdowns against six interceptions in seven games.

As for Brink, who previously played three seasons with the Blue Bombers, he is a career 56.1 percent passer and has more picks (15) than touchdowns (13) at the moment.

While Montreal is in dire straights, tied with the likes of Hamilton and Ottawa for last place in the East Division standings at a mere 1-6, the Blue Bombers are stuck in a real race for West Division supremacy. Winnipeg is currently tied with British Columbia for last place in the division, but the fact that all five teams are separated by just two points means anything can happen during the second half of the campaign.

Unfortunately for the Bombers, it wasn't that long ago that they were at the other end of the standings, thanks to a 5-1 start. However, last week the team suffered a second straight setback in a 38-21 decision at Toronto.

The Winnipeg defense surrendered three touchdowns in the second quarter alone and another 17 points in the final frame, permitting 471 yards of total offense to the hosts. The Bombers didn't do themselves any favors by being flagged for 14 penalties (114 yards), but that was balanced out by the 17 miscues that cost the Argos 122 yards.

Drew Willy converted 23-of-31 passes for 193 yards and two touchdowns, but was also sacked four times. Running back Nic Grigsby accounted for a team-best 66 yards and a major on seven rushing attempts.

Grigsby now leads the CFL in rushing through eight weeks with 416 yards on 97 carries, leading to five touchdowns. Willy has become a strong complement to the ground attack by placing second in the league with 2,158 yards through the air, resulting in 10 TDs, but he has also been intercepted seven times along the way.

Tracing this relationship back to 1961 and only taking into consideration regular-season bouts, Montreal maintains a 46-39-2 advantage even though the Bombers won the most recent meeting earlier this season by a score of 34-33 on the road, and have taken five of the last six encounters overall.

In that first meeting back in July, Winnipeg pulled off the game-winning score, an 18-yard TD pass from Willy to Julian Feoli-Gudino with less than a minute remaining in regulation. Willy went 24-of-38 for 256 yards and was sacked four times.

In addition to some key kicking points tallied by Lirim Hajrullahu, Winnipeg also picked up majors as Desia Dunn returned a fumble 70 yards to the end zone and Chris Randle brought back an interception back 28 yards for the visitors.

Montreal, which crippled itself with a staggering 18 penalties for a loss of 180 yards (Winnipeg had 15 flags for 148), saw Smith throw for 309 yards and three touchdowns, but was sacked four times and tossed that one costly pick.

Winnipeg may be just another team in the West Division at the moment, but against a lost squad like the Alouettes, it only makes sense to favor the Blue Bombers this week.

Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Winnipeg 31, Montreal 17

TORONTO ARGONAUTS (3-5) AT EDMONTON ESKIMOS (6-1)

DATE & TIME: Saturday, August 23, 4 p.m. (ET).

GAME NOTES: Despite being two games under .500, the Toronto Argonauts still find themselves all alone in first place in the East Division standings as they prepare to meet the Edmonton Eskimos on Saturday afternoon at Commonwealth Stadium.

Toronto won just once through the first five games of the 2014 campaign, surprising Saskatchewan in a 48-15 decision at home in Week 2, but has benefited from being in a very weak division that has three teams all tied for second place with records of 1-6.

Last week, the Argos were put to the test by playing two games in a span of five days, a wrinkle in the schedule brought on by the addition of the Ottawa RedBlacks this season. The team came out on top against Winnipeg on August 12 by a score of 38-21, but then bowed to British Columbia a few days later, 33-17.

During the meeting with the Blue Bombers, Toronto was able to get beyond a disturbing 17 penalties, amounting to 122 lost yards, as quarterback Ricky Ray threw for 297 yards and four touchdowns. Ray, who was sacked only once, tossed one of those majors to Curtis Steele, the running back who also stepped up to provide 92 yards and a score on 10 rushing attempts.

Getting the message that their mistakes were becoming too much of an obstacle, the Argos were charged with only three penalties for 23 yards versus the Lions, yet still the hosts suffered the 16-point loss.

Ray ended up 23-of-39 for 181 yards and a score, but was sacked twice and tossed a couple of interceptions, one of which was returned 31 yards for a touchdown late in the fourth quarter by Ronnie Yell.

As for Edmonton, the former home of Ray, it is tied with Calgary for first place in the West Division, but unlike Toronto, the Eskimos have an impressive 6-1 record, a perfect 4-0 on the road.

However, as impressive as the Esks have been in the early going, they looked to be out of sync during Week 8 action at Ottawa where they barely pulled out a 10-8 victory over the league's newest member. Edmonton kicker Grant Shaw was responsible for all of the points on the board, his 27-yard field goal in the final minute of regulation putting his team over the top.

Shaw, who is now tied for the league lead in kicking points with Paul McCallum of BC with 79, converted 3-of-4 field goals and added a single in the second frame of the meeting.

Edmonton quarterback Mike Reilly managed to convert 26-of-35 passes for 271 yards, but was picked off once and sacked three times. He also ran for a game- high 78 yards on eight carries, but he and the rest of the Esks were still held back by 14 penalties amounting to a loss of 133 yards.

Reilly is currently listed seventh on the CFL's rushing list with 320 yards, which might not be the best thing for the Eskimos given how valuable he is as the team's passer. He has completed close to 66 percent of his pass attempts for 1,619 yards and 11 touchdowns, but due to six interceptions Reilly has an efficiency rating of 91.6 at the moment.

Further up the list is Ray with his 96.5 efficiency rating stemming from a league-best 2,165 yards and 13 majors through the air. After last week's action, Ray now has six interceptions as he continues to operate without Chad Owens and Andre Durie, both of whom have been on the six-game injured list.

Now in his 12th CFL campaign, Ray is closing in on joining an elite group that has thrown for at least 50,000 yards. Ray now needs just 369 yards to reach the plateau and join the likes of Anthony Calvillo (79,816 yards), Damon Allen (72,371), Danny McManus (53,255), Henry Burris (53,160) and Ron Lancaster (50,353) in the exclusive club.

In terms of an all-time series between these two clubs, one that takes into account only regular-season battles dating back to 1961, Edmonton still clings to a 45-40-1 edge over the Argos. However, Toronto won the latest matchup last September by a score of 34-22 in Edmonton. Still, the Esks have taken five of the last seven meetings and eight of the last 12 overall.

The teams are set to play each other once more during the regular season during Week 15.

Toronto is showing signs of life in an otherwise dead division, but after playing two games last week the team has to be tired and that leaves Edmonton the perfect opportunity to pounce.

Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Edmonton 28, Toronto 19

CALGARY STAMPEDERS (6-1) AT OTTAWA REDBLACKS (1-6)

DATE & TIME: Sunday, August 24, 3 p.m. (ET)

GAME NOTES: The Calgary Stampeders try to keep their unblemished mark against East Division teams intact this weekend, as they clash with the Ottawa RedBlacks at TD Place on Sunday afternoon.

Calgary, which is tied with Edmonton for the best overall record in the league at 6-1, has taken to beating up on the East Division members by winning all five of those encounters. The Stamps have won two straight overall, thanks to a 30-20 victory at Hamilton last weekend.

Bo Levi Mitchell, who is now off to a 9-1 mark in his career as a starter, converted 19-of-27 passes for 271 yards and a score, but was picked off once and sacked four times. Mitchell also ran for 33 yards and a major on four carries, but he might start thinking more about preserving his body after his counterpart for the Tiger-Cats, Dan LeFevour, suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament injury in the fourth quarter and will now miss the rest of the season.

It might be smart for the Stamps to convince Mitchell to leave the running to someone like Hugh Charles, who put up a game-high 102 yards on 14 carries. It would make even more sense for backup quarterback Drew Tate, who posted four yards and a major on three carries against Hamilton, to put himself in harm's way more often.

Mitchell currently stands fourth in the league in passing yards with 1,692, but because he has 12 aerial TDs against only three interceptions on 207 attempts, he leads the CFL in efficiency rating (102.6).

Right behind Mitchell in terms of passing yards is Ottawa signal caller Henry Burris who has 1,634 yards, but in his case he has an efficiency rating of only 80.4 because he has the same numbers of INTs (five) as he does TDs at the moment.

Burris, a 15-year CFL veteran who played for Calgary during two different stints, threw for 255 yards in the 10-8 loss to Edmonton last week. Burris was 18-of-28 and had a long of 55 yards, accounting for a good chunk of his total. Running back Chevon Walker accounted for 58 yards on 14 carries, but neither was much of a factor as kicker Brett Maher took care of all the scoring with a pair of field goals and two singles.

On a more positive note, the Ottawa defense was quite aggressive as it kept the Eskimos out of the end zone, although Edmonton did manage to generate 452 yards of total offense in the meeting.

Ottawa was bound to have some growing pains this season, its first in the league, but combining the weakest defense (404.8 ypg, 28.4 ppg allowed) with the second-worst offense (17.0 ppg) makes for a very rough stretch to begin a new franchise in an old location.

The pass defense for the RedBlacks has been allowing opposing quarterbacks to connect on a hefty 68.1 percent of their pass attempts, keeping the unit on the field for far too long and preventing Burris from even attempting to keep Ottawa in contention from one week to the next.

The relationship between teams representing these two cities dates back several decades, with Calgary owning a 37-23 advantage in regular-season meetings going back to 1961. The Stamps have won two straight over Ottawa, including a 38-17 romp at home earlier this month.

In that first meeting of the season, back in Week 7, the Stamps leaned on Mitchell who not only converted 26-of-36 passes for 289 yards and three touchdowns, he also picked up a touchdown on the ground during the lopsided event. Marquay McDaniel reeled in a game-high nine passes for 117 yards and a score for the hosts.

Burris stuck it out as well as he could for the visitors, connecting on 20- of-29 attempts for 281 yards and a score, but he was picked off twice and suffered four sacks in the setback. Both sides had issues with playing disciplined football as the RedBlacks dealt with 12 penalties for a loss of 131 yards, and Calgary another 13 flags for 120 yards.

At some point the RedBlacks are going to find a groove and start playing positive football, but until that happens an opponent as strong as Calgary has the advantage.

Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Calgary 29, Ottawa 20

SASKATCHEWAN ROUGHRIDERS (5-2) AT BRITISH COLUMBIA LIONS (5-3)

DATE & TIME: Sunday, August 24, 7 p.m. (ET).

GAME NOTES: Unlike the East Division of the CFL after eight weeks of action, the West Division is as tight as one could imagine.

All five teams are separated by no more than two points in the standings and at the moment the Saskatchewan Roughriders have a game in hand as they face off against the Lions of British Columbia on Sunday at BC Place.

Saskatchewan, which caught a break in the schedule last month, is currently enjoying a four-game win streak and has just as many victories (five) as BC, but has played one less game.

The Roughriders were slow to warm up against Montreal at home last weekend, but the team managed to produce 11 points in the fourth quarter in order to secure a 16-11 victory over the slumping Alouettes.

Quarterback Darian Durant, who is not necessarily happy with the cut of the new uniforms, saying it interferes with his delivery, converted 19-of-30 passes for 221 yards and a score, while being sacked three times in the close call against Montreal. Rob Bagg, who caught the lone TD pass, had six receptions for a game-high 90 yards. Bagg was named the CFL's top Canadian last week for his efforts.

Defensively, the Riders limited an undermanned Montreal squad to just 285 yards of offense, with John Chick recording three of his four tackles against quarterback Alex Brink. Chick, who also forced a fumble, was named the CFL Defensive Player of the Week for the second consecutive time.

Chick, a member of the Riders between 2007-09 before taking a shot in the NFL with both the Indianapolis Colts and the Jacksonville Jaguars, now has a league-leading 12 sacks, five more than his closest competition. While there is still more than half the season to be played, it is not difficult projecting Chick breaking the CFL's single-season record for sacks, set by James Parker at 26.5 in 1984 with the Lions.

Not surprisingly, the Riders currently lead the league in total sacks with 29, even though they've played only seven games.

When it comes to taking down the opposing quarterback, British Columbia doesn't have the same knack as the Roughriders. Through eight contests, the Lions have managed to post only 16 sacks, which is the second-fewest in the league behind only Hamilton (14). However, in an odd twist, tied as the second-leading sack man in the CFL is BC defensive tackle Alex Bazzie who has seven such stops behind the line of scrimmage.

Playing in his first CFL campaign, Bazzie was an integral part of BC's 33-17 win over Toronto last Sunday as he delivered a personal-best seven tackles, one of those being a sack against Ricky Ray.

After opening a 10-0 lead in the first quarter versus the Argonauts, BC managed just three points over the next two frames and found itself trailing 17-13 in the fourth before erupting for 20-unanswered points for the win.

Kevin Glenn converted just 14-of-25 passes for 208 yards and a touchdown, but he and the offense got a huge lift from running back Stefan Logan who erupted for a game-high 145 yards and a score on 19 carries. Logan, who was filling the void left by an injured Andrew Harris, added five catches for 49 yards en route to being named the CFL Offensive Player of the Week.

Not to be overlooked was Tim Brown who returned a career-high 10 punts for 169 yards and brought back three kickoffs for another 80 yards as he was named the CFL Special Teams Player of the Week.

Also vying for league-wide accolades was defensive back Ronnie Yell who picked off a pass in the closing minutes and returned it 31 yards for a touchdown. In this his rookie season, Yell now has two interceptions, both of which he has returned for majors.

These teams met earlier this season during Week 3 action at Mosaic Stadium, with the Lions doubling up Saskatchewan, 26-13. In that battle, Harris ran for 138 yards and a score for BC, adding five catches for another 65 yards as Glenn converted 16-of-27 passes for 170 yards. Kicker Paul McCallum knocked through three of his four field goal chances and finished with 11 points for the visitors.

Durant struggled in a big way for the Riders, converting a mere 15-of-34 attempts for 191 yards and a score, was picked off once and sacked two times as Saskatchewan sputtered.

With that last victory, Saskatchewan's advantage in the all-time series now sits at 94-84-4, with the Lions winning eight of the last 12 encounters.

Saskatchewan has a very strong defense these days with Chick and his mates making one big play after another. However, this might be the sort of game that comes down to how well Durant performs and based on the first encounter this season, that doesn't sound all too promising.

Sports Network Predicted Outcome: British Columbia 27, Saskatchewan 24

2014 Sports Network Predictions: 19-14. Last Week's Results: 4-0.

08/20 15:51:25 ET

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